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Gordon, Hobson share renewed enthusiasm

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – The journey to the NBA is different for everybody.

Not that he had forgotten, but Drew Gordon was reminded of that fact on June 26 – a night that was almost as painful for the former University of New Mexico Lobo as it was joyous.

The 24-year-old Gordon attended the NBA Draft in New York City last month as his younger brother, Aaron Gordon, was drafted No. 4 overall by the Orlando Magic.

Two years prior, Drew Gordon sat with family and friends at a party on draft night waiting for his name to be called.

It never was and he’s since played professionally overseas, most recently in Italy.

“It was bittersweet,” admitted the elder brother of attending last month’s draft night experience. “I absolutely love my little brother. I’m the most proud anybody could possibly be. I’m really excited to see what he’s going to do (in the NBA), but to have to sit there at the NBA Draft for a second time knowing you’re not going to hear your name called, it’s a little rough.”

But the experience was more than just elation for his little brother. Drew Gordon said he’s carried that night with him into the gym at this week’s Las Vegas NBA Summer League with the Philadelphia 76ers, where he’s one of five former Lobos hoping to make an NBA roster (former Lobo Tony Snell is also in the summer league and already guaranteed a spot on the Chicago Bulls roster for the coming season).

“I’m more motivated, more focused than I’ve ever been,” said Drew Gordon. “I want to either be playing with, or against my little brother (in the NBA) in the near future. It’s been one of our dreams.”

Gordon said before Monday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, with fellow former Lobo Alex Kirk, that he feels more optimistic today than ever before he will land in the league.

That same sense of renewed optimism is shared by his UNM predecessor, Darington Hobson, the 2010 Mountain West Player of the Year.

For Hobson, who is getting his Summer League run this week with the Toronto Raptors, his journey to the NBA after leaving UNM actually did begin with getting drafted (second round by the Milwaukee Bucks). But for the 26-year-old Hobson, hip surgery shortly thereafter derailed his chances of making the team’s roster then.

Like Gordon, Hobson has played overseas, most recently in Israel, as well as having a stint in the NBA Development League. The delay of earning that NBA roster spot that once seemed like a sure thing has only made Hobson more appreciative of the opportunity he has before him now.

“I was jumping up and down, screaming,” he said of receiving a call last week asking him if he was interested in joining the Raptors for the summer league. “I was real excited. … If you feel like you’re one of the best players, you want to play against the best competition and the best players. I’m a competitive guy and this is where I wanted to be.”

In Summer League, with team executives sitting courtside every game evaluating not only their players, but also those on other teams, Hobson said he can’t get caught up in trying to be something he’s not.

“I’m just going out and playing,” he said. “I try not to really think too much or put too much into it, because you just never know what teams are looking for. I think that’s where I messed myself up in the past.

“Now, coming in, I’m just going to play my game. I’m just going to be a playmaker, be versatile, play 1 through 4 (point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward) and guard 1 through 4 and see what happens.”

It’s been working. Saturday, Hobson checked in for the first time with Toronto trailing Denver 55-27 in the second quarter. Although the Raptors eventually lost, they went on a 29-11 run thanks to the spark Hobson provided, leading at least one onlooker to take notice from afar.

“Darington Hobson can hoop,” former NBA Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard posted on Twitter during the game.

Now, for guys like Hobson and Gordon, the hope is an NBA general manager starts taking notice, too.